log (2009/05/15 to 2009/05/21)

I'm rereading Dune, for the first time in quite awhile, and I love it as usual, and it bothers me as usual, and sitting on this train looking out the window at the night I'm thinking about why it bothers me, and why some other books, some other stories, also bother me.

It's deeply comforting, in some way, if also potentially terrifying, to think that there is some grand superhuman plan guiding the universe. We like telling stories about grand plans that underlie what happens, that explain or justify what happens.

But one reason stories like that bother me is that it's not true. There is no rumpled fabric of the future, already laid out if sometimes obscure, for Paul Muad'dib to guide the universe through. There is no inherent "need" in humanity "to renew its scattered inheritance, to cross and mingle and infuse their bloodlines in a great new pooling of genes."

And there is no anthropomorphic Deity with a Salvation Plan for humanity, and there is no ancient prophecy playing itself out in world events, and there is no Great Dialectic guiding culture toward a Great Hegelian Synthesis, and there is no inevitable triumph of economic system A over economic system B.

There is just us, doing whatever we choose to do. And there is no one else, at all, to lay the burden on.

Which is wonderful and liberating, and also terrible and immobilizing.

And true.

I like to believe things that are true. Believing things that aren't true tends to get me into trouble, tends to limit my ability to accomplish that I want to accomplish.

It's okay, in general, if you believe things that aren't true; I don't consider myself to have any say over what you believe and don't believe. I like to talk with people who also like to believe true things, because we can work together to figure out what's true and what's not, and that way I come to believe more true things, and am thereby able to get even better at doing things I want to do. But I also like to talk with people who believe untrue things, and who either don't really want to or aren't very good at figuring out which things are true and which aren't, because that can be interesting too.

And people who believe things that aren't true can be very nice, even if they aren't particularly interested in believing truer things. I just feel sort of sorry for them sometimes, because they will not be as good at doing what they want to do. In general.

Various many things have been happening, many of them smallish. I have yet another onlay installed on one of my teeth ("teeth"), and Spennix has nearly enough gold to learn the highest level flying skill, so as to be able to fly very fast flying things rather than just ordinary flying things. The little daughter and the little boy are both finishing up their first years at their respective institutions of learning, which is not smallish at all in some sense.

I'm approaching a scarily round-numbered birthday (I will be 20, haha; in the sense that last year I turned 1o), and thinking about buying myself a snazzy high-powered gaming laptop for WoW and Second Life. Any recommendations? I'm looking at Alienware (even though Dell or someone owns them now); would I just be paying extra for a fancy name? Is a Macbook Pro at all plausible? They are pricey too.

Why do you do what you do? What moves you, motivates you?

When I was younger I founded a whole school of philosophy around the premise and/or discovery that everything everyone does is motivated by pleasure. I think I realized even at the time that this is true only if you define "pleasure" to mean "anything that motivates anything anyone does", but it was still fun.

If you gave someone a promise of enough food and clothing and shelter and warmth for the rest of their lives, and a really good neural orgasmatron, would they ever come out? Lots of stories have addressed that question, of course. Would I ever come out?

How much of what shapes what I do is the result of my own personality and preferences acting on the necessity to obtain food and clothing and shelter and warmth, rather than my own personaltiy and preferences expressing themselves beyond that necessity? Which is to ask, I guess, whether the higher levels of ol' Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs are the things that you worry about once you've got the bottom levels all secure, or whether they are just side-effects of our constant attempts to get the bottom levels even more secure?

Or maybe those are just two ways of saying the same thing.

So let's see. I'm on the train and the train doesn't have an Internet connection (imagine!) so I can't look up the details, but the other day on NPR I heard a disturbing pair of stories:

First story was about a bunch of assholes (NPR unfortuantely didn't use the word "assholes") who had gassed a girls' school because their interpretation of their religion's rules told them that girls should not be educated in schools (but apparently that it was okay to gas girls).

Second story was about the Pope visiting Jerusalem or somewhere, and giving a speech about how Jews and Christians and Muslims should all band together against the great modern evils of secularism and "moral relativism", regardless of their differences on particular doctrines.

He was, that is, putting himself squarely in the camp of the assholes who gassed the girls' school (who have a good solid absolute non-secular moral code, even if he might disagree with their particular doctrine and methods), and against, say, the girls and their parents, who maybe thought it would be a good idea for the girls to be educated and have better lives, in a relative and secular sort of way.

And I really gotta wonder how people like that can really think that they are doing good.

I've been getting involved in the occasional flamewar over in Second Life Weblog Land, and although (or because?) I do get too heavily invested in the personalities sometimes, I've been learning some things about myself.

Two things that really bother me seem to be (A) people who are very sure of themselves when they are either wrong or at least unjustified in their certainty, and (B) people who are mean.

My being so bothered by (A) is something that I think I need to work on.

People, some people, like to be certain, like to sound certain, like to be condescending toward those who are less certain, or who question their certainty. But as long as they aren't hurting anyone or anything by that certainty, however factually mistaken it might be, it should not make me writhe and wince and feel compelled to post things on the web and either get them to See The Light and by Crom admit that they were wrong, or at least make such a strong case that all onlookers realize that I Am Right (even if what I'm right about is just "you don't really know that") and They Are Wrong (about either the fact or their degree of certainty in it).

It's good to wade in and have a good Frank Exchange of Views in order to sharpen my own knowledge, and test my own beliefs, with an eye toward believing more true things and fewer false things (see discussion there above somewhere). But when I get all emotionally invested, and feel compelled to stay in the battle beyond the point where I'm satisfied that my belief is true, trying to get to the point where they admit it and publicly acknowledge my rightness, that's silly, and potentially unhealthy, and even obnoxious, and I shouldn't do that.

My being so bothered by (B) on the other hand is something that I like. People shouldn't be mean, and if I can get in there and campaign for non-meanness and perhaps cause some people to be nicer than they would have otherwise, preferably by example, I think that's a good thing. That's one of the things that I hope believing various true things can help me accomplish. *8)

There were other things I was thinking I ought to write in my weblog (but then going and posting in my Second Life weblog, or playing WoW, or starting up SL, or going to sleep, instead). But none of them spring to mind at the moment.

Oh, here's a link in my "stuff to log someday maybe" collection: The Great Brazilian Sat-Hack Crackdown. If that article is still at that URL you might want to read it; it was pretty interesting. I would have thought that communication sattelites would have had some sort of protection that would prevent people from bouncing their own private signals off of them, but apparently not. I guess it would be hard to do, in the analog realm there, without hurting latency or bandwidth or something?


My iPod is playing "Stewball" (Peter, Paul & Mary). And now it's playing "Parasol", from Tori Amos, "The Beekeeper". And in a minute or three it will be playing something else.

How are you? We haven't talked in awhile.

I like sitting here and writing down words. It's dark outside (because it's nighttime), and the wheels of the train are pushing the world backward, or vice-versa, outside the window. I don't know when I'll post this; I'm not sure if the hotel will have a good network connection, or if I'll feel like posting this before I go to sleep. It'll probably be tomorrow by the time I post it regardless, but that's okay.

Oh! I had a bit over an hour between trains, in New York's Penn Station, so I wandered up and out (something street and something avenue in Manhattan), and got a hot pretzel (omg so salty!) and a hotdog (perfection) and a bottled water from a cart person, and gave a dollar to a nice guy who asked me for a dollar (he was going to get some chicken, he said), and I sat on the stairs of this really enormous building that they have down there (a Post Office, I think, for mail and stuff, but really really big, bigger than you're probably thinking), and I ate my food and drank my bottled water and watched the people walking (and bicycling and scootering) by, and watched the cars and trucks and taxis (many many many taxis) driving by (presumably most of them with people in them, behind the windows), and that was really lovely.

And then I crossed the street and got an Italian Ice at a pizza place, and the two Italian guys behind the counter and the big ebony guy ahead of me at the counter and I talked a little bit about television stations, Telemundo and Univision and this one station that has lots of stuff from India.

"Big Bollywood dance numbers?" I asked.

"Yeah, lots of 'em."

"I love those."

I used to be sort of afraid of The City, oppressed by it, but lately I've come to love it, it and the idea of it, so full of people and their clothes and bicycles and the signs that they put up, and the pizza places and all the places that sell The Best Cup of Coffee in New York, and all the windows there are that someone might be looking out of. It's an amazing place.

Now Candy From Strangers is singing "Lucky Charms" from the album "Candy From Strangers". Which is probably appropriate.

But then what isn't, really?

I was going to end right there, 'cause of that sounds nice and profound and all, but then I thought that since we haven't talked in so long and it's so nice sitting here and typing I should be more polite.

So good night!

Sweet dreams.

Thank you. *8)